Sunday, April 8, 2007

Practical details

An important aspect in trying to get a dissertation or thesis filed is making sure of the administrative details and the other practical aspects of getting the filing process complete.

There are a lot of details, often, but none are conceptually difficult.

The most important ones to know are the deadlines and the guidelines.
Deadlines are important for planning purposes. Obviously, you don't want to miss a deadline (though it's sometimes possible to get extensions). So, it's important to know your deadlines. It's also important to use that knowledge to coordinate with your advisor and to plan your activities. UC Berkeley used to (and perhaps still does) recommend that students plan on leaving an entire day for printing a dissertation. Printing technology is better and faster now than in the past, but you never know what may come up in trying to print a large project. Maybe your printer runs out of ink/toner; maybe the copy shop is closed or is having technical difficulties. But that's a small thing compared to making sure you have the necessary signatures.
Your readers are probably all extremely busy as the filing deadline nears. If you want to ensure getting signatures, you need to get the thesis/dissertation to your committee well in advance of the filing date so that they can review it and approve it. This is a practical matter, because of the myriad demands on professors' time, and an emotional/political one: it's much easier to be well-disposed to someone who has planned and tried to ensure that their professors time demands are respected than it is to feel well-disposed to someone who comes in at the last minute with self-centered expectations. A signature that is late can cost thousands of dollars if you miss a deadline and have to enroll for an additional term.

You also want to know the style guidelines of your university. Most university programs rely on a general style model (e.g. the Chicago Manual or the APA Publication manual), but also have their own specific guidelines in addition to the general ones.
It helps to know these guidelines as early as possible. In the long run, you can save a lot of work by learning the guidelines early and using them while you write. Leaving them until the end can mean a significant effort in reformatting.

The heart of an academic work is the ideas that drive it. But beyond that center, there are several practical issues that can seem intimidating due to their bulk or number, but they're not difficult, only time consuming. Don't let practical issues keep you from filing on time.

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